|Thursday 27th September 2007 Weather: - Cold and Raining
(J) We have been very lucky up until now, weatherwise, but today was a wet and miserable day. We caught the bus into Florence in the hope that it would clear up but unfortunately we spent most of the day juggling our umbrellas and rain ponchos in between heavy downpours. The idea had been to visit the Boboli Gardens and the Pitti Palace but we only got as far as the Cathedral, the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio by that time our feet and bottoms of our trousers were so wet that we decided to call it a day.
The first port of call was the line up to get onto the top of the Duomo (start of construction AD 12960), with the hope that once up there it might stop raining for a few minutes, after a half hour line up we were finally allowed to go up. "463 steps" we were told 'people with heart conditions please do not go up' the sign said. The steps were of a nice height so the going was not too tough but I think that it still took at least a half an hour, it was one way traffic and if someone was on the way down we had to pull over to let them pass, if there was a little extra space that is, but as we got higher the steps also narrowed and that made it very claustrophobic. Half way up we were able to step inside onto the first gallery of the dome to view the frescos on the ceiling from up closer; they were painted by Vasari and Zuccari. The scenes depict the 3 stages of the afterlife; the lower level depicting hell, the next level purgatory and the area in the centre represents heaven. Very fertile imagination they had in those days I must say. How they get their perspective right leaves me in wonderment. It is a wonder in its own right that they are still so vibrant and viewable so many years later. Onward Christian Soldiers, up we went to the top with the idea that we could get some extraordinary photos of the panoramas of Florence. You know all those fantastic postcards that that people have sent you throughout the years. When we stepped out onto the top of the dome it was bucketing cats and dogs, Herman got some good photos balancing his umbrella and his camera (he only needs one hand to take a picture) but as I have to hold my camera to my eye to focus I gave up as I did not want to get it wrecked (it is not waterproof) for just a few photos. Anyway we could see how spectacular it would be on a nice day and it is something that I would recommend everyone to do if they get the chance. On the way down you get a chance to walk around the higher gallery to see the frescos from an even closer position and you have to wonder how many years it took them to finish the job and then you have to imagine all that scaffolding up so high. Once back down on the terra firma we had a good look inside the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore that the Duomo is part of and also the Bell Tower that was designed by Giotto in 1344. When you look at the photos take note of all the different coloured marble and the intricate designs that are present. It was really stunning to see.
After a lunch stop we went on to the 'Ponte Vecchio'. We had been walking the tourist trail along 'Leather Coat Alley' as I call it, there were booths on both sides of the road selling the most beautiful leather coats but I must admit that I did not look to closely as we really do not have use for leather coats in Adelaide. My little leather jacket was not even worn at all this year. As we were walking along Herman suddenly said "well we are on the Ponte Vecchio". I had noticed that the sides of the street had suddenly changed to the most exquisite jewellery shops and also that there were lots of very smart looking police around carrying white leather handbags but somehow I imagined the bridge had a roof, well I was wrong. The sparkle that came out of those shops was intense even on such a dreary day and the splendour of all that jewellery made a dull day feel very bright.
While trying to decipher this evenings' news tonight we were stunned to suddenly see Barberino Val d'elsa on the TV, apparently this is not the first time that they have been without water for an extended time. Anyway we did not throw the water that we have collected out straight away; you never know we may still need it. Onward to Cortona (if the car starts that is).
(H) It's about time I wrote something says she with the literary skills. So here goes. Today the bus ride from Barberino to Florence was an experience not soon forgotten. It sort of reminds me of a ride on the" Mad Mouse" at the Royal Show. Due to the many hairpin bends along these narrow roads, the bus driver being familiar with same does not slow down, you had to hold on tight otherwise you would end up in the seat across the aisle. I noticed that when we got on board the external mirrors were not extended out like they normally are on a bus. I soon found out why as the bus missed the side of buildings, other vehicles, stone walls etc. by millimetres. In fact whilst in Florence in heavy traffic and narrow streets, I am sure that the paint work between the bus and other vehicles new each other intimately. I must admit that Judy and I are really impressed with the bus drivers; how they manage to manoeuvre those big busses on those narrow roads they get 10/10 from us. We are also very impressed with the transport system; the bus we travelled on today was just like a big tour bus and is equipped to carry wheelchairs, the seats are super comfortable and they have seat belts and seat belt signs to 'belt up'. Just to let you know—nobody does. To top it all of any public transport that we have been on in Italy has also been very inexpensive.
This leads me to another observation which may be of help if any of you ever get the chance to drive in Italy. Below are the following rules to obey:
1. Disregard any notice of Speed limits. Always travel at least 20-30kph faster
2. Only slow down when a speed camera notice is displayed, (these are done before the camera, not after as in Australia).
3. A 'workman ahead' sign requesting you slow to 40kph means you must slow to 110 kph on the main highway or at least 90 kph on a 100 k road.
4. Where there is parallel parking and the space is too small for your vehicle especially if it is a van, park at 90 degrees. This works well especially on a narrow street.
5. Stop lights are basically for tourist only. So beware
6. Make sure when you are following a vehicle and you can't pass, that your front bumper bar is no further away from the vehicle in front then 1metre.This applies even on highways.
Hope this is some help.